5 Student Death Part 3

Continuing the discussion of student death in the early years of the Shingwauk Residential School, this chapter highlights the experiences four students who died while at Shingwauk. Three of the students died in the winter of 1882 when a typhoid fever epidemic was raging at the school and at Garden River.

Louis Morris was a boy from Michipicoten who entered Shingwauk on June 19, 1877 at age thirteen. He was a non-Christian when he came, and went by Wuswadeens “Little Man Over There”. Shingwauk Principal Rev. E. F. Wilson described him as having a “delicate chest”, usually an early sign of consumption. He became sick with inflammation of the lungs in December of 1877 but had recovered enough by January of 1878 to return to his studies and other activities. Louis was also described as being earnest about religion, and he was baptized on October 27, 1878 along with Frederick Oshkapukeda and Benjamin Beaconsfield (see below). His supporter, Mrs Maynard, chose his Christian name Louis Morris Wilkins, but Wilkins was generally left off his name. Louis became sick again in the Spring of 1879 with bronchitis and inflammation of the lungs, at the same time Frederick was sick with the same symptoms and dying of consumption. Louis seemed to be sick on a off throughout the summer with lung issues before himself dying of consumption on Sept 18, 1879. He is buried in an unknown spot in the Shingwauk cemetery with his grave marker missing. It was likely similar to the markings which disappeared from Hannah, Solomon, and Frederick’s graves.

Chegauns (Benjamin Beaconsfield) and Wuswadeens (Louis Morris) October 18, 1878

In January of 1882, the school was hit with a typhoid fever epidemic. Typhoid fever is caused by a type of Salmonella bacteria in water or food. Five boys at the school came down with the illness, two of them eventually died from it. Garden River was also hit with typhoid fever, and sixteen people there died, with forty more ill. After one boy had died from the fever (Charlie Penahsewa, see below), Wilson set up a meeting with doctors from the village as well as Chiefs Augustin Shingwauk and Buhkwujjenene from Garden River on January 26 to assess the sanitary conditions at the school and to assure the public that everything possible was being done to care for the boys and stop the spread of the disease. They were satisfied with the conditions and Garden River parents with children in Shingwauk and Wawanosh decided not to remove those children. Augustin Shingwauk then wrote a letter which was sent around to all the Reserves explaining the situation: two boys from Sarnia, Peter Jacobs and Willie West, and one boy from Walpole Island, Wesley Sandys, were all sick but did not seem to be in danger. The disease had spread all over Garden River with one person in each family sick, but those at Shingwauk were well taken care of in a large, well ventilated dormitory that had been converted in to a hospital.

By January 28 another boy had contracted the fever in addition to the three still sick. On January 30, one of these boys was doing very poorly and was sent to Wawanosh for a change of air (a common remedy at the time for almost any illness). Doctors were in daily to check on the boys and Wilson had brought in a First Nations woman to nurse them. Wilson stated that he had more faith in this woman’s ability to care for the children than he had in the doctor, and he felt she was very clever and knew what she was doing. By the end of February the epidemic had passed and the three boys who survived were all well again.

Charlie Ahyahans Penahsewa was the first boy to die in the typhoid fever epidemic. He was a Roman Catholic Odawa boy from Blind River who came to the school on July 5, 1881 at the age of ten. His parents had signed an agreement for him to continue attending Shingwauk until the summer of 1886. He became sick at the end of December with symptoms including head and chest pain and delirium. On December 26, 1882 Rev. E. F. Wilson wrote to Charlie’s mother Mary Endawas to tell her that Charlie had been very sick the past week, but that the doctor and the nurse were tending to him. Despite their care Charlie died on January 5, 1882, was buried in the Shingwauk cemetery the next day, and Rev. E. F. Wilson wrote to his mother to give her the news two days later. No grave marker is left for Charlie and it is unknown where in the cemetery he is buried.

Despite being sick at the same time as the typhoid fever epidemic, Benjamin Beaconsfield died of consumption, not typhoid. He came from Michipicoten with the name Chegauns “Little Man Close By”. He was ten years old when he was registered at Shingwauk on June 19, 1877. For the first few months of his time at the School, he was unsupported, and Wilson wrote many letters trying to find a Sunday School or an individual who could guarantee the funds. It is unknown what kind of effect a lack of support had on the children, what kind of clothes and food they were given, but it seems likely that Rev. E. F. Wilson would have fed and clothed them as if they did have support, hoping to later make up the deficit. Benjamin was a little sickly in February on 1878, but seemed to recover. Wilson thought he may have been baptized in Michipicoten and not given a Christian name, but he couldn’t find out for sure, so decided to baptize him at the Shingwauk Home. Benjamin was baptized on October 27, 1878 along with Louis Morris and Frederick Oshkapukeda, and his Christian name was chosen by his supporter Mrs Clarke. During the 1878 Christmas exams Benjamin won first prize, and he was described as a “dear, loveable boy” making very good progress. In the summer of 1880 Benjamin stayed at Shingwauk, stating that he had no home to go to. He was sick again in the winter of 1880/1881, but was better by January 24 when he told Wilson he was “not sick anymore, only lazy”. He seemed to have been sick on and off throughout 1881, becoming confined to a bed in the hospital room in winter of 1881/1882. He died of consumption on January 16, 1882 and was buried in the Shingwauk cemetery the next day. As with many of the other students who died, his grave is no longer marked.

The last boy to die during the typhoid outbreak was Peter Jacobs. Not much is known about Peter, except that he came from Sarnia and that his father was Edward Jacobs. He may have been the young boy who was sent to Wawanosh when he became extremely sick at the end of January 1882. He died from typhoid fever on February 8, 1882 and was buried in the Shingwauk cemetery the next day, with no surviving grave marker.

Since the majority of students who died at Shingwauk do not have grave markers still visible in the cemetery, a cairn was erected on May 12, 1988 dedicated to all those buried in the cemetery.

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Shingwauk Narratives: Sharing Residential School History by Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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